Sunday, December 23, 2012

Star-Topped Mince Pies

It's Christmas already, and the potluck party invitations are in. I'm always having so many dishes I want to bring, only to find myself pressed for time. I love baking and cooking for friends and families during the festive season but it is also one of my busiest season with Great Bakes. My poor oven runs daily and on some days, for hours straight...just the fruitcakes will take 4-5 hours to bake in very low temperature. So, I have to plan very accurately. This year, I planned for Mince Pies. First up is the Star-Topped Mince Pies. This recipe is available in both Feast and How To Be A Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson. Mince Pies are very easy to do especially if you can buy a good jar of mince instead of cooking it yourself. Not that cooking mince is difficult, it really is easy especially without suet. I'll do it next year just to prove it...remind me. The pastry is relatively easy to mix and all you have to do is roll 'em, fill 'em, star-top 'em and bake 'em. Doesn't even take long to bake them. Just 10 minutes. I'll give it to you if your fingers are a little large because you do need to gently place the fine pastry into the miniature tins. But these babies are beautiful to look at and to eat. Pop-in-the-mouth sizes. My kind of mince pies...I can't stomach large mince pies :-p

Almond Torta with Chocolate Chips

I bought this book because the cover says "100 Foolproof Italian Dishes.." and it was written by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich. If the writer's married surname sounds familiar to you, that's because her son, Joe Bastianich is one of the judges in US Masterchef and my favourite one. This is basically an Italian almond cake. Italian almond cakes are always drier and they have a good reason for that. It's always accompanied by whipped cream, ice-cream or zabaglione (a sabayon-light custard, with Marsala or Moscato). I love the cake but not so much the chocolate chips. Kinda "cheapen" the whole cake, if you get what I mean. I believe using chocolate chunks would have been a better idea. With every bite comes the softer chocolate rather than the over-processed chips. Will do this again simply because it's such a healthy cake!

Chocolate Buttermilk Layer Cake

Picked up a copy of Donna Hay's Oct/Nov 2012 Spring issue waaayyy back in September, and on the back cover was a bonus section- Best of Baking, Classic Cakes. All the recipes were "fast, fresh, simple". True to Donna Hay's style of cooking. Little Miss requested for this cake simply because she loves icing. And eating cakes layered with icing is her idea of nirvana....right after ice-cream. This is a melt-and-mix type of cake and as expected, the chocolate cake was a little too dense for my liking. The frosting was chocolate cream cheese. It's was 36'C then (still is) and melting fast, as I feverishly tried to slice and slap on the frosting in between layers! Clearly, the assembled cake had to be stored in the refrigerator all the time and that didn't help the cake texture. Still dense, a tad chewy and drier. I recall baking Donna Hay's 6-layer Chocolate Cake some years ago and I think it must have been the same recipe because its texture was the same. Little Miss polished off whatever cake was left anyway...hmmm, got to teach her to be a bit more discerning. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The World's Best Chocolate Ice-Cream

Did I mention that I got myself a Cuisineart ice-cream machine in June? Well, I DID. At a SALE. It was ON SALE. It was CHEAP-er. Such a bargain that there was only 1 UNIT LEFT. My DAUGHTER LOVES ice-cream. Oh....a woman will have every justification possible when she buys something on a whim doesn't she? I've been meaning to shop for one since last year and all I encountered were either the plasticky, toy-like versions or the industrial sizes. I wasn't looking for it this time when I was in Melbourne but as chance would have it, it was there in Essential Ingredients. The one and only unit in the store calling out to me, begging to be adopted. But I was there specifically for ONLY Maggie Beer's Verjuice, a bottle of paella spice mix and Callebaut dark chocolates!! My girlfriend was surprisingly unsurprised when she came back from turning the car around to hear me telling her that I was carting an ice-cream maker back. Mind you, it was quite a large box and I had to re-organise my cabin baggage to accommodate an extra hand luggage. Yes, I had my tote on one arm and the huge 4kg box on the other. I looked ridiculous. Even had to sort of fling it to show the check-in officer that it was simply light plastic ware and my overweight check-in bag could use that allotted 7kg instead of paying a penalty. Story of the ice-cream machine's journey doesn't end there but I'll stop now...we're getting out of context here.

So, the world's best chocolate ice-cream, eh? This recipe was from Nigella Lawson's How To Eat book and she swore that this ice-cream deserved the title. I have by then churned a few rounds of ice-cream and they've all been great. Best be known that homemade ice-cream is nothing like store-bought ones. Not entirely better but entirely different. All depend on what you want from your ice-cream. Our staple brand is Bulla and once in a blue moon, a very expensive and small tub of Haagen-Daaz. But this chocolate ice-cream is truly a class of its own. I used a half of dark chocolate and another half of bitter chocolate. The smokiness from the burnish caramel gave this ice-cream its much-deserved title. It is velvety smooth, creamy rich and.....orgasmic. Beauty of it is you only need a small scoop to get your fix...see how easy it is to satisfy a woman?

Chocolate-Pistachio Cake

This cake came about when I was idling in the kitchen while the boys were watching the Singapore F1 race on the telly and a jar of pistachios on the sideboard threatening to go rancid. Got a kilo of these wonderful nuts from Dubai and we've been popping them till our throats were scratchy. Needless to say, we refrained from them to recover and it's been rendered purposeless since. So, I sat in the kitchen for half an hour just shelling all that were left. Thankfully, there was just enough for this cake. I've resisted baking this cake in the past because pre-grounded pistachios are non-existent and I worry that my food processor may not do a good job. But this old kitchen helper proved me wrong. It did a beautiful job processing the pistachios until dust and it was simply putting the rest of the ingredients after that, to finish off the batter. This flourless cake was moist, yet light and that's all due to the meringue folded into the batter in the last step. So, you have to make sure that you beat the egg whites till they are glossy and firm. I didn't cook the orange-flower-flavoured ganache and this scrumptious cake didn't need any icing to take it to cake nirvana.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Chocolate Cheesecake

We love cheesecakes and we love this Chocolate Cheesecake from Nigella Lawson's Feast. My only gripe is the recipe calls for a couple more ingredients to make up the filling. But then again, it may not be as yummy if it didn't have those extras. Compared to the version from How To Be A Domestic Goddess, this one's smoother and the chocolate flavour is much more intense with a good balance between the sweetness and tang from the sour cream. The two obvious things I did, which probably contributed to its sophistication are (1) using Oreo cookies (no cream) for the base instead of digestive biscuits and (2) Callebaut Dark Chocolate, which reminds me...... I'm out of it!!

Marble Cake

The MOTH finally agrees to this Marble Cake! Over the years, whenever a slice of Marble Cake is presented to him, he'd look at it with disdain. You see, he has very little regard for Marble Cakes...remind him of tuck shop cakes - dry, character-less and plain sweet, just so they can call it a cake. I tend to agree at some point because it really is just a two-colour Madeira Cake where you divide the batter in two and colour one with a tablespoon of cocoa. But this version from Nigella Lawson's Feast is different. Using her moist Madeira Cake as a base, she also gave a small but significant twist to each colour. Citrus zest to add some zing to the plain batter and a little coffee to perk up the chocolate base. The cake is moist, flavourful and you won't stop at one slice. A real comfort cake. No wonder it's in the "funeral" section of that book!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Quadruple Chocolate Loaf Cake

We had this for breakfast on Monday. What's with the "quadruple" you ask? Well, Nigella Lawson explains that this cake is made up of cocoa, chocolate chips, chocolate syrup and grated chocolate. Love this cake for its simplicity to bake the loaf. Put everything into the food processor , blitz and pour. Easy-peasy. the chocolate syrup is a whole other thing. You want the syrup to be syrupy, not just melted sugar with cocoa. For that, you'll need to stir consistently over low heat for the liquid to turn caramel-y...if there's such a word. Easy if it's just sugar and water but with cocoa added, looking for the colour change is impossible. Doesn't help that it's simmering. It basically has to reduce to turn into this yummy thick syrup. Anyway, if this is going to be daunting, forget it. In my opinion, the syrup didn't really enhance the loaf nor did the flakes of chocolate on top. Purely aesthetic, I feel. The top did look shiny and chocolate flakes inviting but other than that, the loaf itself was to die for. Rich, moist and flavourful. Maybe it was the Valhorna Manjuri cocoa I used and the 75% dark chocolate chips? Well, Young Master's mates wiped out whatever that was left from breakfast for tea, so I didn't get a second slice to have it 'dance in my mouth' - quoting Manu Fidel.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Big Pasta with Mushroom, Parsley, Garlic & Thyme

I know...the title itself is a mouthful. I would have just called it plain Vegetarian Baked Pasta. This recipe came from Nigella Lawson's Feast and it ensues the baked rigatoni for meat-lovers from the previous page. Our family love butter-sautéed mushrooms with garlic on toast. So, baking this for Sunday lunch was a no-brainer. But working out the right quantity was a lot of brain. Nigella's recipe was to feed 16! I halved the béchamel and mushroom mixture recipes, and used only one 500gm packet of pasta (recipe called for three). I ended up baking the pasta in a 20cm dish and six large ramekins. If you're going to do this, make sure you have a large party or freeze the rest (like I did) for a weekday lunch. Cooking the white sauce may be a bit daunting for beginners but you have to start sometime because lots of comforting food involves béchamel...and even better, cheesy béchamel. Always get the roux right first. Set the stove on low fire, melt the butter and add the flour. Sprinkling them into the pan while constantly whisking helps. When you see a nice paste, add the milk. Never stop whisking. No need for vigorous whisking just a gentle and steady hand will do. Increase the heat a bit and continue whisking till it thickens. Let it come to a boil but not over-flowing it and take the sauce off the heat. You'll have a beautiful sauce for your pasta. The other thing I changed here was using three cheeses to top the pasta mixture instead of one. Less salty with less parmesan, richer with cheddar and great browning with stringy mozarella.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Squares

I've been on sabbatical from "commercial" baking for 2 weeks now and will continue for another 2 weeks to purportedly help with Young Master's year 6 SATs equivalent. Well, I don't know how much I'm helping when I've been cooking and baking up a storm in lieu of cake decorating! Must be a stress reaction or instinctive know, cooking for his brain? Just this morning, a friend updated her Facebook status saying her son's teacher recommended fruit juices to help them. She said sure, will get some Peel Fresh (packaged juices) later. Son replied, "no mum, fresh juice"...You can already see good ol' mumsie skinning oranges. Frankly, I've been doing the same. The MOTH (who'd reason with you that fishes are friends not food if he can have his say in my meal planning) have been scrunching his face a lot lately. Yes, if you don't know, yet, fish is brain food....yeeeesss.
So, Chocolate Peanut Butter Squares - brain food or not? Well, chocolate sharpens the mind and peanut butter nourishes the brain! See? I knew I had a reason for putting this together...*snigger*. These fudgy squares are divine. By using dark chocolate and a smooth peanut butter, the match was made in heaven. They just melt in your mouth. Think these squares have been helping Young Master keep his anxiety level low?

Monday, July 2, 2012

Chocolate Pistachio Fudge

Another hit! This is exactly how fudge should taste and feel in your mouth....smooth, velvety and decadent. Helps that you try to use only the best dark chocolate you can find. I found mine in Melbourne's The Essential Ingredient in Prahran Market. Callebaut make's one of the finest dark chocolate callets (chocolate bits shaped like lentils) in the industry. I got a packet of 57.8% cocoa and though that's semi-sweet, it didn't kill the fudge. While fudges are supposed to be sugar-coating the insides of your mouth, it doesn't need to be diabetes-inducing. The result was addictive. Can't have enough of it! I was also very pleased to use the slivered fresh pistachios in the fridge. Got that in I-will-not-go-to-Vic-Market-again. Pistachios in my opinion, are the Hermes of nuts. It's great for your heart, very high in anti-oxidants and one of the most expensive nuts in the market....yes, I think Hermes is also very good for my heart, thank you. So expensive that we only get old, waxy, dried ones here. Probably the lowest grade Iran can spare. But seeing that vendor with the pile of green gold amongst its pale earthy cousins, I had to buy some back. The chocolate fudge was a perfect catalyst to the pistachios. Now, THAT is food porn.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

White Chocolate (and Macadamia) Brownies

Another morning of , "What shall I bake for tea?". No, I don't always bake for tea on a weekday but I had to make a point to do that on Mondays. Young Master has a jam-packed schedule on Mondays and while he's swallowing his food instead of chewing 20 times, I had to make sure whatever he swallowed were jam-packed with calories. On Mondays, he has to be snacking tea in the car on the way to sports practise. So, snack had to be something small and easy to eat. We had dark chocolate brownie the week before, and I had to try finish the white chocolate buttons in the fridge. So, I looked for a Blondie - white chocolate brownie recipe. HTBADG has one and with my apprehension with white chocolate....I was determined to tweak it from the beginning. First, I cut the sugar by 1/3. Second, I replaced macadamia nuts with dried cranberries. The recipe change worked wonders. It was divine and you don't hear that from me very often when it comes to white chocolate. The balance was perfect. This will probably be the only white chocolate dessert recipe I'd repeat.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Maple and Ginger Cheesecake Tarts

What do you do with leftover (because no one wants to lose their teeth,) Arnotts Ginger Nut biscuits? Use them as cheesecake base. I have a couple of books with recipes using Ginger Nut biscuits....probably all with the same reasons as I do. Why do they make them so hard? The recipe I chose was from another Aussie purchase I made - Donna Hay Magazine Winter 2012, hot out of the press. Using the food processor to pulse crumb the Ginger Nut biscuit nearly killed the poor machine. The biscuits were THAT hard. It couldn't even make a crack in the first few pulses! In the end, I took out my mortar and pestle, and gave each and every biscuit a good smash for being stubborn before blitzing them to oblivion. Pressing the biscuits into the individual tart tin was a pain. I couldn't feel my fingers after lining the 8 tins. The cheesecake was a mix of two cheeses - ricotta and cream cheese. I do like that because the cheesecake turned out light and pleasurable in the mouth. Not your usual rich and sticky-through-your-throat-kind of cheesecake. I'd do this again replacing the Ginger Nut biscuits, of course.

Pizza Casareccia

I'm back! And I'm back with a 10kg loot from my recent trip Down Under. Much thanks (or no thanks, depending on whose view ;-p) to my girlfriend, I was in culinary haven over those few days. Not only did we feast, we, I mean I, shopped. Melbourne is Australia's foodie territory and there was no question that I could find every gadget, pan or spatula here. I had a very modest 1 item to shop for this trip, and ended up with....let's see...10kg worth including a pizza stone. Needless to say I was keen to put it to use and see if my pizzas crisp with the stone. I chose to use a new pizza dough recipe (from Nigella Lawson's How To Be A Domestic Goddess), feeling very goddess-like with my new toy. Well, the excitement pretty much ended there with my enthusiasm. Turned out that this dough recipe was a soft and sticky kind. The kind that needed well-oiled hands to handle. I flattened one half of the dough onto a non-stick pan and the other half on the pizza stone. Both turned out exactly the same texture! Crispy! Talk about a good pizza dough recipe. Well, I must say though, the crust got stuck on the the stone leaving traces of oil impregnated in it and extra cheese melted and burnt on the the stone left it looking very well-used. I shall try the stone with my regular pizza dough recipe and see if it's better than before. I'll be damned if it's the same after carrying that heavy stone back!! Stay tuned....

Thursday, April 26, 2012


These are killer buns!!! The MOTH and I gallantly skipped lunch last Sunday thinking that our breakfast will sustain us till at least tea if not dinner. Fed the kids at Coffee Bean and came home at 1pm only to hear our tummies rumbling. I wanted to bake the Norwegian Cinnamon Buns for tea (and warm up the rest for Monday's breakfast) and realised that there's something similar on the next page. Schnecken- German for snails. Nigella wrote, "They are like the Norwegian Cinnamon Buns, only more so. By which, I mean they are stickier, puffier, gooier and generally more over the top." We couldn't agree more. While it did involve a few extra steps, who would have thought the results were going to be soooooo good. The mixture of butter, sugar, maple syrup and golden syrup was what completed the whole experience of bread indulgence. A good blob of the syrup with walnuts went first into the muffin pan cavities. When the dough was done, it was rolled out, glazed and generously sprinkled with the sugar and cinnamon filling. Roll the dough and cut as you would when preparing cinnamon buns, and place the 12 slices on top of the nuts and syrup. It was love at first sight when I turned the very hot muffin tin over on to a flat tray. The rolls popped out topped with oozing caramelised walnuts, smelling a million bucks. That sight was to die for. The taste was unparalleled. Best cinnamon buns ever. I am so going to abandon the traditional cinnamon bun recipes and bake only these from now on.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Hot Cross Buns

Baked this lot for Good Friday a couple of weeks ago with a recipe from Nigella Lawson's Feast. This book features recipes for every celebration and I always love the baked goods from this book. The buns are a bit dense compared to store-bought ones but that's always expected from home-baked breads. We don't use bread improvers or dough softeners, so we'll hardly get those absolutely light and airy-kind of bread or buns. They are nonetheless, tasty and real stomach-fillers. Instead of fruit peels, I used sultanas. Best eaten straight out of the oven.

Instant Chocolate Mousse

Ack! Had to gulp down so much water just to rid the sweetness of this mousse! This recipe was from Nigella Express. A very good book and the recipes in there are truly for express cooks. I love cooking from there when I'm short of time or have limited supplies in the larder. While the upside with this book's recipes is food-on-the-table-in-a-jiffy, the downside is-quite a lot of the ingredients used are "instant" ie. processed, canned. Personally, I'm fine using such ingredients once in awhile because they're easily accessible and most of the the dirty work's done for you like pureed chestnuts, boiled and frozen peas, sponge fingers etc. But, they do tend to be artificially-flavoured, seasoned or sweetened. Which leads us to this Instant Chocolate Mousse. A packet of mini marshmallows (Kraft) was the main ingredient, hence no hand in controlling the sweetness level. I even used dark bitter chocolate with hope to balance out the marshmallow but it didn't help. Even Little Miss, who's got the sweet tooth, couldn't hack the sweetness...."it's like eating tablespoons of sugar and no chocolate taste at all mum!". Will need to have make-up Chocolate Mousse (made from cream) just to restore our love for this dessert.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Espresso Chocolate Cake

Prep and Cook Time 1hr 30mins (+cooling time)

250g butter, chopped
200g dark chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 cups strong coffee
2 cups caster sugar
1 1/2cup self-raising flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
2 eggs
1 tbsp Grand Marnier

1 Preheat the oven to 180C (160C fan-forced). Grease and line a deep 25cm round cake pan.
2 Combine butter, chocolate and coffee in a medium saucepan over low heat; stir until chocolate has melted. Add the sugar; stir until dissolved. Remove from heat; transfer to a large bowl. Whisk in the combined flour and cocoa, then add the eggs and liqueur until combined.
3 Pour mixture into the prepared pan. Bake for about 1 hour or until the surface of the cake is firm. Cool cake in pan.

AWW August 2011

Christmas Cupcakes

Err...a post that didn't get published then. No idea why...

MERRY CHRISTMAS, folks! I've finally completed the last round of Christmas baking for both clients, friends and families. Among the goodies I baked this Christmas were the Traditional English Rich Fruitcakes, Yule Logs, Gingerbread Men and Nigella's Christmas Cupcakes (and in cakes, as well). These very light, yet moist chocolate spice cakes are simply a pleasure to not only bake but to eat, too! I offered these for this year's Christmas booking besides the fruitcakes because they were more "healthier" among the holiday buffet spread. Last year was Mint-filled Brownie Cupcakes! I made them in cupcakes as well as cakes (see 2011 Christmas Bakes) - most as you've seen are fondant-covered. At home, I iced them with Crushed Candy Cane White Frosting and some minis in Crushed Candy Cane Chocolate Fudge. Kids loved them with the frostings (obviously...) and as usual in our household, I leave the other half of the cupcakes un-frosted just for us oldies. No less yummy.

Banana, Cherry & White-Chocolate Cupcakes

Another cake baked with "We have nothing for breakfast tomorrow morning!" in the mind. A fairly easy cupcake to do if you have all the ingredients in hand. I had 3 bananas and lots of white chocolate (I don't remember how I ended up with such a large packet of them when I personally hate white chocolate). Didn't have dried cherries, only glacé ones, so I replaced them with dried cranberries. The cranberries turned out to be the saving grace with these cupcakes.
    In case I haven't mentioned this before, white chocolate isn't chocolate. It's primarily cocoa butter, sugar and milk. No cocoa solids at all so it doesn't have any characterising ingredients of chocolate. Me & white chocolate = mortal enemies.
   Back to this cupcake - It was way too sweet. I should have had the foresight to reduce the fine sugar by at least 50gms because white chocolate is sweet, really sweet. The children actually asked about the chocolate in their cakes because they couldn't see nor taste them. Yes, it was banana-ish and the cranberries helped. Had it been cherries, it would have been harder to swallow. The tartness of cranberries helped. Do use the dried unsweetened ones and increase the volume if you're planning to bake this. Texture-wise, perfect. The sticky, goey mixture doesn't look promising in the pan but it bakes beautifully.


Wow! My last post was when?? I've got no other excuse but one word- hectic. Since the start of 2012, my days' been zooming past from one Space Mountain to another. The children increased their participation in school and yours truly end up being at the end of the logistics line. Not to say I haven't been baking or cooking, I have. Just didn't have the time snap pictures and write about it. Well, there were a couple of odd pictures but going through them awhile ago, I have no recollection where those recipes came from. At that time, I must have told myself that I should start documenting my other cookbooks, too. I also try out lots of recipes from food magazines...they are actually good resources because various chefs have their recipes featured in them. But yes, I'll be resuming this and will also be putting up full recipes from magazines or websites I've baked or cooked from. Not those from cookbooks though. I advocate supporting these writers/chefs by buying their books. I believe that we cooks ought to look out for each other and by owning just one or two very good books, you're set for great home-cooked meals in a jiffy!